International Symposium ‘Lascaux & Preservation in Underground Settings’- The Paintings of Lascaux under Serious Risk

File:Lascaux painting.jpg

photo:wiki commons

This is the second post of the big art story of SW France. Here is the first part:

Unesco Threatens to Put Lascaux Caves on Endangered List

The Paintings of Lascaux under Serious Risk

” Since the year 2000 the cave has been beset with a fungus, variously blamed on a new air conditioning system that was installed in the caves, the use of high-powered lights, and the presence of too many visitors.[3] As of 2008, the cave contained black mould which scientists are trying to keep away from the paintings. In January 2008, authorities closed the cave for three months even to scientists and preservationists. A single individual was allowed to enter the cave for 20 minutes once a week to monitor climatic conditions. Now only a few scientific experts are allowed to work inside the cave and just for a few days a month.” –

“Upwards of 50 per cent of the caves’ … art is disappearing under an incursion of black spots, some as large as human hands, triggered by the use of high intensity lights and excess human presence inside the cave.” Mme Léauté-Beasley , ( –

“Mais vous savez, le probème n’est pas facile! Dans une grotte, il y a beaucoup de paramètreq qui interviiennent…”- Jean Clotttes, interview in the newspaper ‘Sud-Ouest’, 22 Feb 2009
(“But you know, iit’s not an easy problem! In a cave, there are lots of parameters that come into it…” – my translation)

Caves (‘grottes’ in French) are fragile bio-climates. Distinguish between caves that open to the air, that ‘breathe’ such as Font de Gaume & caves which are shut to exchange with outside air such as Lascaux & Chauvet. This is usually due to the overhanging roof at the mouth of the cavern collapsing & blocking the entrance. For instance, when Chauvet was discovered in 1990’s, it was very quickly sealed off & kept air tight (actually it’s up a gallery or ‘floor’ if you like in a system of different caves). Its climate is monitored by CNRS scientists using the latest in automated technology. The variations in it’s micro-climate are less than a hundredth of a degree centigrade over the course of a year. So imagine what a shock it was to Lascaux to be opened up to 20 000 visitors breathing CO2 & carrying spores of green algae on their shoes. Lascaux was shut to the public in 1963. It was brave & good decision by the French Government, acting as guardians. An exact life-sized replica ‘Lacsaux 2’ is open to the public & it’s well worth the visit. You can also take a virtual visit, freely offered to the world by the French Government.
La Grotte de Lascaux

A Short History of Lascaux

nb. This is what I’ve quickly put together from the internet from various sources.
nb; this is not a scientific report nor is government-sponsored nor is in any way an accusation.
nb. I am not a specialist & don’t knwo anything first-hand.

08-SEP-1940 the 17,000 years old paintings were discovered by boy & ‘robot’ the dog.
1940’s Cave entrance opened up.
Water evacuated.
Cave floor disturbed before proper conservation measures & archeological explorations were made ( the now current archeological practice of touching nothing was unknown. The principal of recognising that future generations may well evolve more elaborate & sensitive means & methods was unknown. The fact that caves are fragile was unknown).
1948 Opened to the public.
Hundreds of cubic metres of soil & rock removed.
1955 First signs of damage recognised. Higher levels of CO2, humidity via condensation, seasonal temperature variations, green algae,
1958 first air conditioning unit installed; cave floor further damaged.
1963 Closed to the public.
Walls treated with anti-biotics & fungicides.
1990’s climate control machinery changed to combat (white) calcite formation.
2000 climate control adapted.
2000’s digital photography survey with heat generating lights
2001 – 2002 first fungal attack of black spots of Fusarium.
Walls treated with anti-biotics & fungicides.
2008 Urgent appeal made by UNESCO to French Government; Visit of Minister of Culture to Lascaux.
Numeric stimulation model, University of Bordeaux, perfecting various scenarios of climatic control.
Facsimile ‘Lascaux 3’ opened to public, with intention that it could possibly travel to other museums around the world.
2009 International Symposium.

International Symposium ‘Lascaux & Preservation in Underground Settings

26 & 27 FEB 2009 – International Symposium ‘Lascaux & Preservation in Underground Settings’

Symposium international ” Lascaux et la conservation en milieu souterrain ” les 26 et 27 février 2009

Organised by as an initiative of Christine Albanel, Minister of Culture & Commmunication, & under the chairmanship of Jean Clottes, President of Fédération Internationale des Organistaions d’Art Rupestre.
The symposium will promote comparisons between Comité scientifique international de la grotte de Lacsaux (created in 2002) & other research by other teams of multi-disciplines from other parts of the world (Afrique du Sud, Allemagne, Australie, Espagne, Etats-Unis, Italie, Japon, Nouvelle-Zélande, Portugal, République Tchèque). The Minister has promised transparency & free access to real information.

“Que l’opinion internationale s’intresse à Lascaux, oui; qu’elle gère le problème, non. Cette Grotte est sous la responsabilté de l’État français. C’est à lui de l’assumer” – Jean Clotttes, interview in the newspaper ‘Sud-Ouest’, 22 Feb 2009
(” That international public opinion is interested, yes; that it controls the problem, no. This cave is the responsibility of the French state. It’s up to them to assume their responsibility.” – my translation)

Wikipedia says of Jean Clottes : “After being appointed director of prehistoric antiquities for the Midi-Pyrénées in 1971, he began to study prehistoric cave art in order to fulfil the responsibilities of that position.[3] In the following years he led a series of excavations of prehistoric sites in the region. In 1992, he was named General Inspector for Archaeology at the French Ministry of Culture; in 1993 he was appointed Scientific Advisor for prehistoric rock art at the French Ministry of Culture. He formally retired in 1999, but remains an active contributor to the field.” –

Adam says of Jean Clottes : Read his books, they are absolutely wonderful! ‘Un vrai grand homme de la Préhistoire’, he embodies much of the passion, the care & the scientific rigour for the prehistoric heritage of SW France. He was also part of the exploratory team of grotte de Chauvet.

John Berger, speaking of the decision to conserve Chauvet intact & unopened to the public.

” So the animals on the walls there are back in the darkness from which they came and in which they have resided for so long.

We have no word for this darkness, this darkness which is very closely connected with light. We have no word for this darkness. It is not night and it is not ignorance.

Maybe from time to time we all cross this darkness. seeing everything that we can distinguish from nothing. Maybe it is the interior from which everything came.”

‘L’Esprit de la Vallée’
56 x 76 cm.
© Adam Cope.